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Swearingen touts liability bill for campground tourism

Lawmaker: Owners shouldn't have to pay damages for incidents out of their control
Published By Port Clinton News Herald on May 27, 2021
D. J. Swearingen In The News

COLUMBUS - A new bill working its way through the Ohio Senate may offer more peace of mind to business owners and employees running campgrounds, which remain among the region’s most popular summer destinations.

House Bill 229 aims to amend the state’s liability laws pertaining to campgrounds, making it so owners and employees can no longer be sued for incidents they had no control over, according to state Rep. D.J. Swearingen, R-Huron, who sponsored the legislation.

“Ohioans shouldn’t be held at fault for events and circumstances that are totally out of their control,” Swearingen said. “That’s common sense.”

Lawmaker looking for more 'just outcomes' by raising liability risk level

He said the new legislation would provide for more “just outcomes” by raising the level of liability risks specific and inherent to camping.

The way the existing law is written does not work, Swearingen said.

“It’s not clear enough and as a result, Ohioans are fielding claims that, quite frankly, they have no control over,” he said, citing examples such as bicycle accidents, campfire accidents and even drunken adults jumping off picnic tables.

“I’m sorry to say, but if you get drunk and jump off a picnic table at a campground, that one’s on you,” Swearingen said.

But for some campgrounds, the cases end up settled to avoid costly litigation or increased insurance costs.

“In my 45 years in the camping business, I have had many incidents which would qualify under this bill,” said Jeff Hoffman, owner of Sandusky Bayshore KOA and president of the Ohio Campground Owners Association.

Owner cites incidents of dog bits, trips/falls, other animal encounters

Among the incidents cited by Hoffman were dog bites, people tripping over fire rings, wind damage, other animal encounters and more.

While he said they do take safety very seriously and do their best to provide safe environments, they cannot eliminate every risk inherent to camping.

“This is our livelihood,” Hoffman said. ”Our parks carry our blood, sweat, tears and to be in constant threat of a frivolous lawsuit from an obvious risk to camping is stressful.”

Mark Skinner, of Sleepy Hollows Campground in Port Clinton, which has been operating since the 1960s, said while his campground has not been targeted by any frivolous lawsuits there, he understands how the bill could provide peace of mind for those that have been.

Swearingen said, if passed, it will give owners and employees “certainty in the law” when faced with a claim going forward as to what they are and are not responsible and liable for, describing the bill as “balanced, fair and limited in scope.”

House Bill 229 was passed by the Ohio House of Representatives earlier this month and has since been assigned to the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee in the Ohio Senate, which held its first hearing on the legislation Tuesday.

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